Firmly entrenched as a public policy tool, lockdowns loom long into our futures
‘Long Covid’ refers to the symptoms that some people suffer many months after infection with SARS-CoV-2. It is not a straightforward continuation of the initial crisis — indeed many of the symptoms are completely different.
Looking ahead, we need to prepare for a parallel between the disease and the public policies designed to control its spread. Just as there’s a long Covid there will be a long lockdown.
Vaccination should mean an end to the lockdowns we’ve experienced so far. Step by step, life will return to normal. Households will be allowed to mix again. Schools, shops, pubs and restaurants will re-open. We might even stop wearing masks.
But there’s a catch: the threat of new variants. Even if vaccination stops the spread of Covid in a particular country, there’s the rest of the world to worry about. If the virus continues to spread and mutate elsewhere, there’s a danger that we’ll import a new variant against which our vaccines are less effective.
Therefore, expect massive public pressure for ongoing restrictions on cross-border travel. Australia doesn’t expect to fully reopen its borders this year — not even if most of its population is vaccinated. In the Republic of Ireland, a recent poll found 90% support for quarantining anyone entering the country.
It’s not that we don’t want things to go back to the way they were — in fact, we’re desperate for them to do so. But that’s precisely why we’ll be so protective of the progress that we do make. Hence, the likelihood of long lockdown aimed at locking out any resurgence of the disease.
For most people, the long lockdown will much easier to bear than the crisis lockdowns we’ve come to know and hate. However, there’s one thing that will be worse about the successor regime — it will be more divisive.
It’s not that the current restrictions have had precisely equal effect across society. Clearly, some people have suffered a lot more than others. But just about everyone has had their lives disrupted. It may be a cliché, but we really are in the same boat.
Not so with the long lockdown. The rules will be targeted against some people so that most people can enjoy normality. Yes, foreign holidays will be difficult — and perhaps impossible — for everyone; but the burden will fall heaviest on those for whom international travel was an integral part of their lives. The much talked about divide between the ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’ will become a lot sharper. If your normal life was lived in more than one country, then the long lockdown will prevent not protect a return to normality.
Another divide that the long lockdown might open up is between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated. The latter are likely to face restrictions that the former don’t. Indeed, discrimination could be a deliberate instrument of policy if achieving herd immunity is deemed to be compromised by the refuseniks.
This is less likely to happen in countries like the UK were the great majority of people want to get vaccinated, but it could be real issue in countries like France where they don’t.
In summary, the long lockdown will be very different — and for the most part much better — than what we have to put up with now. However, until the pandemic ends everywhere, there will be consequences.